Planets apart; Man working with machine to reach new heights

An expert in robotics, Professor Sethu Vijayakumar has ideas that are literally out of this world. We caught up with him in our blog to hear more about his talk ‘Sending your robot to Mars? List of things to pack.’

Sethu has pioneered the use of large-scale machine learning techniques in the real-time control of several iconic robotic platforms, now collaborating with NASA on unmanned technology that will be sent into space. While judging the latest episode of BBC Robot Wars, Sethu saw his life flash before him when a 39.75kg of spinning metal bar with over 600KJoules of energy came flying at him. They say you put your life on the line for your passion… this was perhaps a little too literal.

Sethu Vijayakumar

What is your idea worth doing?

Creating technology that enables robotic pre-deployment missions to Mars.

How did you come up with your idea?

Our expertise in large-scale learning and control of highly complex robotic platforms was an excellent fit to NASA’s roadmap of the Mars missions. Unmanned robotic pre-deployment would make such missions much cheaper (by about 50-60%), much more sustainable longer term and help validate untested technology in the field without putting human lives in danger.

How is your idea going to change the way we look at the world?

The idea has obvious benefits for NASA’s Mars missions in terms of cost and safety considerations. But some of the core technology we are developing and deploying in the area of ‘shared autonomy’ – to deal with transmission delays, user in the loop operations and limited bandwidth has interesting spillovers in other domains.

We are exploring its use in the asset inspection and maintenance of large offshore oil and gas rigs as well as hard to access infrastructures, such as drainage, high rise buildings and bridges using robotic deployment. Similar technology is helping solve the problem of efficient control of exoskeletons and prosthetic devices in shared control paradigms on human bodies.

Who has inspired you?

Mathematicians around the world who can make a complex problem or idea explainable simply by the use of some beautiful formalisation. That inspires me.

Who else are you excited to see at TEDxGlasgow 2018?

I am really looking forward to the Youth Event being organised as a whole new event this year – to hear and explore some fresh perspectives on some global issues.

Next week you can hear Sethu and our 19 other TEDxGlasgow 2018 speakers talks as they explore our Rethink theme on Friday 1st June at the SEC Armadillo in Glasgow. Tickets are limited but you can get yours here if you’re fast.

  • Written by Cat Leaver
  • Posted on May, 25 2018

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